I’ve been reading Simone De Beuvoir’s The Blood of Others. It’s a grating read. It cuts to the pain of an ethical quandary that I feel should grate at us all – are we responsible for everything? Or should we just take care of ourselves? It goes to the heart of existentialist angst – the French variety.

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Simone De Beauvoir, by Charis Tsevis

In it, the main character, Jean, quotes Dostoyevsky:

“Each of us is responsible for everything and to every human being.”

Jean adds: “We’re all responsible. But ‘all’ means each of us. I’ve always felt that, even when I was a kid; my eyes are sufficient for this boulevard to exist…I see everything taking place, as if everything that happens, happens through me.”

And so, in classic existentialist form (always, already) he sums up the philosophical basis of our purpose on this planet. But Helene his clinging girlfriend wants more from him. She responds:

“There are times when I feel as though I were an atom in your life.”

She’s of the utilitarian school of thought, which I’ve always struggled with because it has no meta-purpose. It works only to the 85 years we’re allotted on this planet.

Me, I don’t see the point of my personal happiness. It serves no meta-end. Attending to the collective good, however, does serve a meta-end. I’m not being altruistic. I’m being quite selfish within this framework. Feeling worthwhile and that I’m contributing satisfies me more than happiness. Happiness doesn’t do that much for me. I’ve written about this before.

I can only feel like I count if I operate to the notion that I’m responsible for everything. And I’m responsible for everything while ever I choose to expose myself to everything that life offers, which I do so by simply living.

I believe we’re here for a reason – to further things and make things better, not to have a pleasant party.

This applies to recycling, not wasting food, paying taxes to ensure fair education for all, believing refugees deserve a life as decent as ours… and so on. Otherwise, what’s our meta-point?

What about you?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • I believe that the reason we need to work to become as self aware and self knowledgeable as possible is because when we discover things through that journey we then become responsible for sharing for the greater good. E.g I see my own journey as first a personal healing and then as a responsibility to help people. I think that happens in all forms, so our own dedication to helping ourselves feel good then ricochets off to be able to help others and or the world, via what we do.

  • Maryann

    If you live a life that is true to yourself then that is a type of happiness. I think the idea of being responsible for everything can be anxiety inducing. So for me I would say I do the best I can to live a respectful life.

  • feliss

    The things you mention, Sarah – recycling, etc – are important but I believe our ability to extend compassion and kindness to everyone is far more important. We are connected to one another, whether we like it or not, and I believe we have a responsibility to build one another up every day. A small connection can mean so much – we may never know how much.

  • V

    Yes SW, yes. I read this somewhere recently and noted it:
    We aren’t here on this earth to improve endlessly, forever approaching infinite perfection but never quite getting there. We are here to notice the enormity and beauty of everything around us, and to notice each other – to notice how flawed we all are and feel connected anyway.

  • Stinie

    I think that we are here for everyone and everything whether we choose to believe so or not. The smallest of actions, whether intentional or not, can have the biggest impact.

  • Chelsea

    “I believe we’re here for a reason, and that’s to further things and make things better, not to have a pleasant party.”

    As a wise little girl in a taco ad once said, “Why don’t we have both?”

    I don’t see these ideals as being mutually exclusive. Am I misinterpreting something?

  • jb

    The fantastic book by Gary Zukoff ‘The Seat of The Soul’ is perfect to understand this

    • jb

      Sorry – Gary Zukav.

  • garyk (Gary Koekemoer)

    Great question to reflect upon. We exist. We are a specific specie. We inhabit a planet. Without others, without the planet, “I” would not exist. Thus we are others, we are the planet. If we accept that being alive makes us responsible for “life” (that is to continue living), then we are responsible at all these levels simply by virtue of existing. The meaning we attach to being here is a meaning we impose upon our existence, it is not a necessary condition. It does however appear to be a human condition, as far as we can tell a whale does not say why am I here, it simply is here? Humans appear to need meaning, a purpose, “what is the meaning of life” is a question we have always carried with us.

  • Emma

    Sarah YES. We are each responsible for everything.. every time we sit back passively while things happen around us, we are responsible for the continuation of it and we also suffer existentially until we stand up… and then we’re still responsible, in a more conscious way. I’m more motivated to get out of bed ‘for the greater good’ than for my own small self.

    Not sure if what I said even makes sense! But the effect is that I wholeheartedly agree! XO

  • Danny

    And I thought I had a crush on you before.

  • Daniel L

    This is one of my favorite posts that you ever published in your blog… Simone De Beauvoir is one of the greatest females ever lived and I enjoyed everything that I ever read from her…
    “The law of karma states that everything which happens in our lives
    is nothing but the reaction of our past activities. If
    we wish our lives to be different in the future we have to change our activities
    in the present; and by doing so we change the direction of our lives”. To join to Resistance or to become collaborator, each decision carries consequences…
    It is impossible to be perfect and to predict every consequence of every action in our life, but that makes life challenging. Overcoming these challenges is what makes life meaningful and enjoyable…
    I hope that you also liked her book “Le Deuxieme Sexe” 🙂
    All the best !

  • gwen

    Selflessness and humility – So long as we aim for that destination but never think that we have reached it – that is how we know we are kept on the right path. And whole-heartedly agree that all sentient beings in the passage of life are interconnected somehow.
    Love your pieces Ms SW. Always food for thought.

  • mw

    Oh Sarah .. if only you could cook !